For more information on the effort to dig up history on the Augusta Police Department, or to share stories about the department, contact Sgt. Christian Behr at 626-2370 or visit Facebook.com/AugustaMainePoliceDepartment.

AUGUSTA — If William Shakespeare is right, that what’s past is prologue, then the Augusta Police Department’s search for its history could prove an important part of its future.

If not, the capital city’s officers will at least have a trove of interesting stories to tell.

After years of collecting artifacts and stories, Sgt. Christian Behr has been given the task of delving deeper into the department’s past. Behr, seeking the public’s help, is organizing an open house next Saturday for people to come and share their stories, pictures and heirlooms. The session is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. at police headquarters at 33 Union St. The event will be preceded at 4:30 p.m. by the lighting of the wreath at the nearby Law Enforcement Memorial on State Street.

“With that mandate, I said, ‘I’m going to reach out,'” Behr said. “If you want to come over, show us your stuff, tell us your story, that’s what I’m interested in.”

The department has collected a handful of historic items over the years as they’ve come across them, typically when people would drop things off. Chief Robert Gregoire began talking about ratcheting up the effort early in 2012 when an ancestor of an Augusta police officer gave him two badges that date to the late 1800s.

That officer, Elbridge Pedder, fought in the Civil War and later served two years with the Army on the western frontier before returning to Augusta. Pedder died in 1906 on Gage Street.

Gregoire said it appears Pedder, who also served with Augusta’s fire department, had the role of what is now known as a reserve officer. One of the badges is etched with the year 1893. Gregoire said the second badge appears to be even older.

“They’re spectacular just because they’re old,” Gregoire said. “This gentleman had quite a history.”

Gregoire said the badges piqued his interest in department history, but the search to track down the department’s heritage has been difficult. The city has a scrapbook that dates back to the 1950s, and pictures have been donated that depict officers from the early 1900s, but there are large holes in the historical narrative. Gregoire said lots of information was lost when Kennebec River floods reached the former city hall in 1934 and 1987.

“We’ve lost a lot of stuff,” Gregoire said.

There is even uncertainty about when the department was founded, Gregoire said. The uniform patches claim the department dates to 1754, but that’s when the city was incorporated. Gregoire said it appears there were various forms of law enforcement, such as marshals and sheriffs, before the department was created.

“When did we actually become a police department?” Gregoire said. “That’s my interest.”

That interest is based on more than mere curiosity. Gregoire said whether a private corporation, military branch or public service agency, it is important for employees to know about those who have come before.

“My guys in the military, they know the Marine Corps birthday,” Gregoire said. “We don’t have that.”

Providing that history to current officers, particularly those who are newly hired, can help build pride and cohesion. “That’s what I’m looking for, something to be proud of,” Gregoire said. “You’re part of that history.”

Perhaps the saddest chapters in the department’s history revolve around the two officers killed in the line of duty. Rufus Lishness was killed on Nov. 11, 1894, when he was shot in the head while responding to a disturbance. Seldon Jones was killed when he crashed his motorcycle on May 17, 1930. Both men are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Behr’s search has taken him to area libraries in search of nuggets of information about Lishness and Jones and Civil War-era officers. Behr said he is particularly hopeful he will gather more information about the two officers who died in the line of duty.

“I’m one of those guys at the PD that’s always tried to preserve the history,” Behr said.

Deputy Chief Jared Mills believes tracking down their history is a way of honoring those who have served the department.

“We want to make them part of our department,” Mills said. “We’re proud of our police department. Our officers are proud. We want to make the past a part of that as well.”

Gregoire hopes the public can help make that desire a reality.

“We have a history,” he said. “We just have to find it.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642[email protected]